back to school kids

Ready or not, school is starting soon. For many teachers, that means you’re just getting used to waking up later, feeling rested, and hopefully enjoying some travel. But in the back of your mind you’re also thinking about your classroom, your students, and your lesson plans.

I’ll never forget the beginning of my teaching career. I was 22 and had just moved across the country for my first position teaching ninth-grade English. I remember feeling so unprepared walking into my classroom for the first time. It was full of desks and boxes of books, and I had very little to add to the mix. As that first year progressed, and throughout my 20-year career, I have often felt overwhelmed by the huge responsibility facing teachers. It’s not enough to be a reading or math expert; teachers also need to address the social and emotional needs of their students. That’s a lot for one person to handle, and chances are you have some social and emotional needs yourself!

Here are some ideas to make your first few weeks of school more manageable, whether you’re a first-year teacher or a veteran.

  1. Make deposits in your students’ emotional bank accounts starting on day one. For every compliment you give and every effort you make to show interest in your students, you will receive the benefit of their willingness to participate in your classroom. Just a touch on the shoulder or a silent thumbs up lets them know that you see their efforts. Take the time every day to have conversations with your students that are not school-related, maybe while walking to lunch or recess or specialists.
  2. Set goals for yourself and your students. Decide one thing you are going to do every day, every week, or every month. Keep it simple! I found it was helpful to focus on daily goals, especially during a stressful time of year (like December or May). A daily goal could be something like listening to three students read, meeting with a small group, or simply making sure you get to lunch on time. Take time to reflect on your progress toward your goals, and don’t beat yourself up if things don’t always get done.
  3. Have your students read and write every day. Every. Single. Day. Students who read and write every day become more confident in these essential tasks. Students who struggle with reading can start with a program like Read Live, where the stories are leveled and provide appropriate scaffolding.  
  4. Make sure your students know you believe in them. They may struggle in reading, math, or organization, and your positive encouragement will make these struggles much less demoralizing. Acknowledge their efforts rather than their successes: “ I love how you showed your work. I love how you lined up your numbers. I love that you remembered to sharpen two pencils at the beginning of the day!”
  5. Ask for help. Whether you are a brand-new teacher or a veteran, you will have days when you need support. You will quickly find the people in your building who always have chocolate, or cold water, or extra pencils. Then, when you’re ready, you can be that person for someone else.

No matter how tough it can be, I still believe teaching is the most important job you can do. So set your alarm for a few minutes earlier every day, finish the book you’re reading or the series you’re watching, and enjoy one more leisurely lunch with friends. You are ready for this year, and we at Read Naturally are here to support you!

Diana Phillips is a Curriculum Associate at Read Naturally. In her 20 years of teaching students of all ages and ability levels, Diana has developed a passion for supporting teachers as they encourage students to become better readers.